05 Apr Bumps in the Road
Often times when our path gets disrupted we react with distress. It can be easy to fall into a process of getting right back on our journey when our plans go awry. However, if we look at those bumps in the road as opportunities rather than obstacles to be overcome, we often see great value in these interruptions. Our perspective on the situation changes our response.
About 8 years ago, we re-committed to completing a film about Dr Sarno, and ever since that time we have been on a path of not only filmmaking but also of healing that involves a commitment to a slow and steady shift in perspective. This has not been a straightforward path by any means. There have been periods of great change and growth, but also periods of stagnation, and the repetition of old patterns of behavior. However, even those derivations from the path have become opportunities for greater understanding of the power of those patterns.
One of the greatest obstacles for changing one’s own behavior is the resistance to that change from those in their community and family. Most people fear change, fear those disruptions, more than they even understand, and react in ways that push us to stop changing. When we don’t respond as expected, we are perceived as a threat. In some ways, it’s as if we are on the stage with them and we don’t deliver the line that they expect so they don’t know what to do. We can also look at it as if when we deliver a line, they will react as they have learned, or been trained, to react. When this unconscious pressure to be as we have always been is applied, it is very easy to react with anger or distress. However, the more aware of these patterns that we become, the easier it is to respond.
A few weeks ago I was on a trip to a film festival when my flight was delayed in taking off. I knew that I had a tight turnaround in Denver so I tried to see if I could just fly out the following day but they wouldn’t allow it. As expected my flight got in late but we were told they were trying to hold our connecting flights. I got out and ran as fast as I could through the airport. It’s a pretty high altitude city, so despite the fact that I run a lot I got very winded. As I approached the gate I could see that the door was open so I was elated. However, the agent told me the boarding door was already closed. My first reaction was anger, but I took a breath and allowed that to pass. I rushed off to get my flight changed and get a hotel room. I knew that our delay came from operational error- a missing flight attendant- so I knew they had to give me a room. When I got in line a guy behind me got my attention. It was the older brother of a good friend from high school who had also been on my flight. I told him they had to get him a room too. In the end we went to a bar and got to watch the second half of the Carolina Duke basketball game (which we would have missed had we made our flights). In the end, it all turned out great.
This week, a tenant moved out of our house and he called the gas company to turn off the gas to his apartment. Unfortunately, it also turned off the gas of the people downstairs so they could not cook. I immediately called the gas company to correct the problem, but was told it would take at least a week to turn it back on. I wrote to the tenant and offered a heartfelt apology and some money for meals as well. A short while later, she called me and she was livid. I was aware of my physical response of distress to that rage, so I breathed deeply and listened. I told her how sorry I was and that it was not something I was aware might happen. Things didn’t calm quickly but I continued to listen, and I understood why she was so upset. It was an uncomfortable situation, and I tried to put myself in her position. She felt powerless and angry. Rather than react to that rage by defending myself, I worked to remain calm and focused on what she needed. Before there was a stove in that apartment, the previous tenant used a two-burner hot plate. I suggested getting her one. After a bit of confusion, she quickly came to see that it was a possible solution. Within an hour, I had arranged for her to pick one up from the local hardware store and the problem was solved. Ten years ago, I might not have been able to respond as well. Even if I had, it would have taken a real toll on me because it would have involved the repression of my emotions rather than the re-routing of them. That physical response would have been wildly more powerful. As it was, I didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the situation.
I have been thinking about these issues a lot the past few weeks because we are involved in a very difficult situation with another film of ours. In short, some people are upset that we made the film because they didn’t think that we had the right to tackle the subject matter. They protested at a screening and insisted that we not show it again. The protest was so surprising and intense that it made it very difficult for us to find a way to respond. So, we agreed to take a pause in the screenings in order to make a space for dialogue so that we could come to some kind of understanding. However, there has been no space for that dialogue. Their narrative of the situation is very different from ours, yet since we have not been able to show the film, their narrative is the only one out there. That film is very much about the difficultly of debate in the public space in our current political climate. The irony of this situation has not been lost on us. We have spent the last month reflecting on the film, the process, and ways of moving forward. Sometimes the path does not lead us to where we want to go, but if we slow down we can see that it leads us to where we need to be.